Our Voice: With wine and biofuels, WSU Tri-Cities' reach extends around the world

September 22, 2013 

Cantwell Biofuel

September 14, 2013 - Birgitte Ahring, right, head of the Center for Bioproducts and Bioenergy at Washington State University Tri-Cities, talks Friday to Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., center, and David Suomi, with the Federal Aviation Administration, about the production and use of biofuels. Cantwell was at the facility to announce that WSU was chosen to be the headquarters of the new FAA Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment.

RICHARD DICKIN — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Washington State University Tri-Cities technically belongs to the state, but this community rightfully feels a sense of ownership in it.

The community got together and formed a vision of what we wanted higher education to look like in our community -- twice. We also lobbied the Legislature to allow WSU Tri-Cities to become a four-year institution.

No wonder it feels like it's "ours."

That plan unfolds a little more every year -- and now this vision for our community is getting some national attention.

Perhaps we set our sights too low.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., announced last week that WSU Tri-Cities will be the home for a new national jet biofuels center.

This is a big deal.

It is a cooperative effort between several big players. It's a huge feather in our cap -- and the state's.

It will provide jobs here and around the country. It also has potential to revolutionize the air-travel industry.

The fact, however, is that the new biofuels center is one of many "big deals" going on at "our" campus right now.

Sometimes we lose track of the national and international impact of things happening in the Mid-Columbia.

If we started naming them all, the list would be quite long and still incomplete, and would mention many contributors, not just the university.

But it definitely would include the biofuels center and the still-coming wine science center -- and those are just the two bright spots on the horizon.

The jet biofuels center will be the only one in the country. The wine science center is one of only two in the world.

It's impressive.

We also are impressed with the ability of the school to play with others.

That's an important lesson we're all taught in kindergarten, and it's equally important for life beyond high school.

Nearly all of these big projects depend on collaborative partnerships. Working with willing and knowledgeable partners has become a hallmark of WSU Tri-Cities.

It should be noted that wine and alternative energy are not the only things we're producing here.

As a community, we're producing scientists and artists and nurses.

These skilled people are perhaps our most valuable commodity.

This year, the school admitted more freshmen than ever. The numbers keep climbing, despite a continuing local and national trend of increasing tuition. And the student body more closely reflects the community all the time.

It's exciting to see more freshmen. The trick will be seeing those students through to graduation.

Chancellor H. Keith Moo-Young has taken a personal interest in seeing that freshmen starting at the campus make it to commencement.

"Dynamic student engagement is a priority at WSU Tri-Cities. Retention starts with strengthening our existing support services, from academic advising to the veterans center. Our faculty members are exploring innovations," Moo-Young told the Herald.

"For this record freshman class, I am starting a new tradition of engaging parents in a yearlong conversation about ways they can support their students during their academic careers, which is especially critical when so many of our students are the first in their families to attend college."

We look forward to seeing them succeed.

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